If you cannot catch them, stampede em over the cliff

Thanks Chris for pulling on this thread so to speak

Perhaps these photos are just of excesses of the past, of things we label charismatic megafauna, then promptly tend to forget, whereas the bugs and bees fallen to pesticides, and the fish eaten for survival do not seem to evoke the same feelings of loss.

See also today’s news about a recent paper describing the human impacts on the larger mammals: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/19/604031141/new-study-says-ancient-humans-hunted-big-mammals-to-extinction

Wonder how many babies this female had every year…

When you tug a thread

I tore this picture from the newspaper last month and put it on the shelf behind some books, but the image didn’t let go. The sorrow it engendered seemed disproportionate. I follow the news and know that human lives and hopes and dreams are being extinguished all over. Children’s lives and hopes and dreams. Why bother about a hundred-year-old photo of some extinct animals?

They are Tasmanian tigers, or thylacines, in a zoo in about 1910. They were hunted to extinction in the wild around that time, and the last of their kind – though there are occasional unverified sightings to this day – died in captivity in 1936.

The thylacine was a marsupial. It raised its young in pouches like a kangaroo, and evidently evolved to fill a dog-shaped hole in its environment. “Convergent evolution”, zoologists call it. I guess because of some conditioned affinity for dogs, I’m more moved by those faces than I could be by any image of a dodo. See those curious, questing, intelligent eyes. And the physiognomy, so familiar and yet so strange. What a dreadful loss.

I’m not sure if we ever carried out a proper accounting for this loss, and I believe we need to – for our own well-being if nothing else. Our ancestors wouldn’t have allowed such a thing to pass without appropriate acknowledgement. Without mourning.

I’m talking here about our deep ancestors, way back when our kind still lived and died amid wonder and mystery, both as a part of Nature and apart from it. Way back before wild grasses were tamed on the silty flood plain. Before wild creatures were hobbled and roped into our enclosures. Before settlements, property, hierarchies, laws, slaves, money, taxes, royalty, God, soldiers, politicians, bureaucrats and the execution block. Before we had to indulge wealthy simpletons boasting about their plans for colonies on Mars and everyone living to 100! Before all the generations of stunted minds and lives. Back to when our distant but actually not so distant kin were strong and alert, and well aware of how deadly our gifts of fire and tools and storytelling could be for the magical web of life on which it all depended.

We could consider the thylacine just another twig snapped off the Darwinian tree, one of many. After all, those who study these things tell us that 99-point-something per cent of all species ever have gone extinct, that’s how evolution works. So… chill. But no. Tug a thread, and then another, and pretty soon the whole fabric comes loose. That must have been clear as daylight to our ancient kin, for whom every waking morning was a reminder of how blessed they were and how dependent on Nature’s grace. It was clear to Shakespeare (“For nothing so vile that on the earth doth live / But to the earth some special good doth give”) and it’s clear to a lot of us today. It’s an important truth yet one that’s glossed over in the narratives that drive our global, urban-agro-industrial culture. So the threads go on being tugged out, one after another.

Scholars of the Sixth Mass Extinction report that species are now blinking out at between 100 and 10,000 times the background rate of extinction. No time to mourn them all, of course. In fact, no time to mourn any of them. Our culture of extraction and consumption has to keep pressing forward, eliminating obstacles along the way.

Stop now and it all collapses.

Carry on and it all collapses.

But at least let’s account for what we’ve done and where we’re at. Even though it hurts. Our deep ancestors, if they came among us now, would surely look at us – their own distant progeny – with eyes of affection, and admiration, and sadness. They’d know full well the price that is paid for injuring Nature, and they’d understand the thylacine can’t be brought back. The thread can’t be pushed back into the fabric, no matter how hard we might wish that.

I believe they’d also consider it the responsibility of our kind, once Nature’s favourite child, to face up to what’s done, to take on that burden – not bury it – then live with it as best we can.

The Courage to Jump

I took this photo of my son, 18 months old and poised to jump off the bench to the ground below.  The picture captured his fearless love of adventure so clearly.  At the age of two he climbed up to the top bunk and jumped off into a bin of stuffed animals below.  He is still adventurous but lately I’ve come to realize that he isn’t without fear or doubts.  In other words, he is a normal young man.  I’d been thinking about gender roles when I came across a recent article by Tim Winton discussing how toxic masculinity is shackling men to misogyny. “I don’t have any grand theory about masculinity,” he wrote, “but I know a bit about boys.”

Continue reading “The Courage to Jump”

There and Back Again, or the SARE Conference report

The birds sang in the bamboo patch and a soft wind blew across the green valley, and so  it was with a twinge of reluctance that I embarked on my trip to Saint Louis, Missouri to attend the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) conference. SARE is a grant program under the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, for which I have the privilege of serving as an advisory council-member. Continue reading “There and Back Again, or the SARE Conference report”

Nickering

I’ve heard that the Bedouin celebrate the birth of a foal as an event second in importance only to  of emergence of a poet, which seems an admirable way of looking at things to me.  After weeks of anticipation and nervousness, I am celebrating the birth of a tall, black filly with one white foot and a star on her forehead. Continue reading “Nickering”

Vernal Equinox 2018

It is the day of the spring Equinox, the light and the dark in precise balance, the light hours lengthening most rapidly now, the lightest half a year starting now. With all the human holydays coming on their own human planned schedules, the four “astronomical” special points have a solid and real basis, cosmic even, so to speak, for being celebrated. Call me a pagan if you like, but just remember that unrepentant pagans cannot hear you on days like this… so…
Behold the Equinox and Happy Spring Everyone….

Urban and Small Farm Agriculture

We often read about the environmental damage and unsustainable practices of modern agriculture.  Some people have proposed urban gardens and small farms as a pathway to food resiliency; repairing environmental damage, reducing fossil fuel use, and improving our health and well-being.  Others conclude that it takes too much effort; people aren’t going to change; no one wants to slave away in the garden, kitchen, or on the farm; it can’t be done in every country;  small farms and gardens can’t feed the world’s population.  All these arguments have some merit, but I have found the reality of growing local food becomes quite different once the transformation begins. Continue reading “Urban and Small Farm Agriculture”

Pastoralist Propaganda

Of late, I’ve been under the spell of the Mongolian film-maker Byambasuren Davaa.  She has made three movies: The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Cave of the Yellow Dog, and The Two Horses of Genghis Khan (Das Lied von den Zwei Pferden).  I’ve only seen the first two of Byambasuren’s movies, the last was not released in the US.  Her movies are a fascinating blend of fiction and documentary; the actors, humans and non-human, are themselves, they don’t even play themselves, they live their own lives but there is a movie camera and a story that they act in.  Sometimes they think of the camera for a split second, as real people would do Continue reading “Pastoralist Propaganda”

The Soul of All Things from Richard Rohr (CAC) posting…

Am not sure how to embed external links into this effort having tried before with mixed mostly poor results, so with full attribution want to post this work because i believe the thoughts are so central to what this website was meant to explore

The Soul of All Things
Monday, March 5, 2018

“As we saw yesterday, the modern and postmodern self largely lives in a world of its own construction, and it reacts for or against its own human-made ideas. While calling ourselves intelligent, we’ve lost touch with the natural world and, as a result, lost touch with our own souls. I believe we can’t access our full intelligence and wisdom without some real connection to nature!

My father, Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226), spent many days, weeks, and even months walking the roads of Umbria and letting nature teach him. Francis knew and respected creation, calling animals, sun and moon, and even the weather and the elements his brothers and sisters. Through extended time in nature, Francis became intimately connected with non-human living things and came to recognize that the natural world was also imbued with soul. Almost all male initiation rites—including those of Jesus and John the Baptist (see Matthew 3:13-17)—took place in nature, surely for that reason.

Without such recognition and mirroring, we are alienated and separated from ourselves and all of nature. Frankly, we will not know how to love or respect our own soul. Instead, we try various means to get God and people to like or accept us because we never experience radical belonging. We’re trying to say to ourselves and others, “I belong here. I matter.” Of course, you do! But contrived and artificial means will never achieve that divine purpose. We are naturally healed in this world when we know things center to center, subject to subject, and soul to soul.

I think of soul as anything’s ultimate meaning which is held within. Soul is the blueprint inside of every living thing that tells it what it is and what it can become. When we meet anything at that level, we will respect, protect, and love it.

Many human beings simply haven’t found their own blueprint or soul, so they cannot see it anywhere else. (Like knows like!) Instead, most religious people are largely conformists. There’s nothing wrong with conformity as such, but when it is only meeting reality at the external level, and we do not meet our own soul, we have no ability to meet the soul of anything else either. We would have done much better to help other Christians discover their souls instead of “save” them. My sense, after being a priest for almost 50 years, is that most Christians are trying to save something they have not even found.

They do have a soul, but it seems to be dormant, disconnected, lacking grounding. They are not aware of the inherent truth, goodness, and beauty shining through everything. If God is as great, glorious, and wonderful as all the religions claim, then wouldn’t you think that such a God would make that wonderfulness available? Such connection and presence is as freely available as the air we breathe and the water we drink. This is surely why John the Baptist moved his initiation rite out of the temple, away from the priestly purity codes (of which he was well aware), and down by the riverside in the wilderness. Jesus “submitted” to this off-beat ritual, which we now call baptism. Yet now baptismal ceremonies are most often held in church buildings, usually disconnected from anything natural except the water itself.”

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Soul, the Natural World, and What Is (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009)

What story shall we tell?

The community in which Jedek is spoken is more gender-equal than Western societies, there is almost no interpersonal violence, they consciously encourage their children not to compete, and there are no laws or courts. There are no professions either, rather everyone has the skills that are required in a hunter-gatherer community. This way of life is reflected in the language. There are no indigenous words for occupations or for courts of law, and no indigenous verbs to denote ownership such as borrow, steal, buy or sell, but there is a rich vocabulary of words to describe exchanging and sharing.

This is not a fable from a galaxy far, far away. It’s from a study by researchers at Lund University in Sweden. Jedek is spoken by a small community of people in the Malaysian highlands, and the language features described above are not uncommon among cultures not yet swept aside in the civilizational deluge. They are part of our human heritage.

It’s been known since forever that words both reflect and determine how we perceive the world, and what’s more, that it is possible to instrumentalise that tendency of language to determine perceptions. The relevant techniques are routinely learned and applied by advertisers, demagogues, preachers, storytellers and cognitive therapists, to name a few. What is less widely known, though, is the invisible way that a language’s deep-down warrants — what it does and doesn’t permit, what it privileges and what it plays down, what it values and what it disdains — shapes its speakers’ understanding and expectations of other people and themselves.

Now, contemplate for a moment what it means to live within the confines of a language-culture which values ownership and transactional self-interest to the extent that ours does…and wonder what that might do for our capacity to recognise and share our common interests. Our capacity to play, not compete. Our capacity to love.

I’m sure a healthy culture fills minds with a rich vocabulary for sharing, supporting, exchanging, listening and understanding, and offers only a meagre selection of words for those other things, best forgotten. A healthy culture wouldn’t even have words to express esteem for a “great deal”, or for obscene wealth, or for the act of blasting a junk automobile into orbit to attract “likes”, because those would be beyond all possibility of being esteemed.

But back to the speakers of Jedek. Their world is not a utopia and it’s not a new-age fantasy. They’re real people leading normal lives, albeit normal in a way that people from our culture would typically dismiss as less than cultured. But that reflects a deficit in our language and values, rather than in theirs.

As one of the Lund University researchers writes:

There are so many ways to be human, but all too often our own modern and mainly urban societies are used as the yardstick for what is universally human. We have so much to learn, not least about ourselves, from the largely undocumented and endangered linguistic and cultural riches that are out there.